Training the Sit, Down, Stand, and Stay

First, let me suggest that in teaching any command, don’t say the word until after the dog is doing what you ask. Say the command either while the dog does what you ask or after he is in the required position so that he knows what it is he needs to associate a word with. After he knows the command, you can begin saying the word before he does it. Mark a behavior the minute he does it. Then give the treat. See our page on Marker Training for more details on what marking a behavior is.

TRAINING A” SIT” can be taught two different ways. In thinking about the anatomy of a dog and basic physics, you can see that when a dog stands his feet are further apart than when he sits. His body is at an angle creating a shorter line between his feet when sitting than when standing. In order to physically sit, he has to either move his front feet backwards toward his rear or move his rear forward to his front feet.

Trainers call a sit where a dog moves his front feet back a rock back sit. This is the easiest sit to teach. To teach this, simply hold a piece of food in front of his nose and then move it over his head. Your dog will naturally sit in order to look at the food. As he sits down, say the word sit and mark the behavior. Then give the treat. You don’t need to push his rear down. Let him push his own rear down in order to get to the treat.

If the dog sits by moving his rear toward his front feet, it is called a tuck sit. Competition obedience trainers teach this type of sit for when they are healing. If a dog is in perfect heal position while standing and then does a rock back sit, his front feet will go back a few inches causing him to be behind a perfect heal position. A tuck sit is a bit harder to teach so it isn’t necessary unless you plan on doing some type of competition that requires perfect healing. If you want to teach your dog a tuck sit, you would lure him differently than for a rock back sit. The food would need to go forward a bit while you physically and gently push his rear down and forward. If you ever want to do obedience competition, teach a tuck sit from the start. If not, it’s not worth the time to teach. Some trainers will teach both sits as there are times in upper level competition that both types of sit are beneficial. Just give each sit a different word command.

TO TEACH A “DOWN” command, once again you’ll lure the dog into position. I prefer to teach my dogs initially to down from a stand. While continuing to hold onto the food, place it on the floor a few inches in front of the dog. His nose will follow it to the ground causing his whole body to follow. Sometimes in the beginning you’ll have to give the ground a couple of little taps to encourage the dog to follow the food to the ground. If done correctly, his front legs will go down first before his rear. Mark the behavior as soon as his whole body is down. Sometimes a dog’s front feet will go down and his rear will stay in the air like a bow. Simply push his rear gently on down. With repitition, you should gradually fade your luring and pushing until he is responding to just the word.

THE “STAY” should be taught incrementally and VERY gradually. Start off by putting your dog in a sit. Put your hand up in the position you’d use to stop traffic. Hold it fairly closely in front of his face. Say stay and step one step back and then go right back to him and reward him. If he moves toward you, move him back to a sit in the same position he was in originally. Don’t let him sit in the new position. In order to keep him from moving, you can hold him without actually touching him by keeping your hand so close in front of his face that it’s difficult for him to move. At first you are moving such a short distance away and for such a short period of time that your dog doesn’t even have time to think about moving before you’ve marked and returned to him and rewarded him. You move such a short step away that your hand doesn’t move from right in front of his face and you are only away for the amount of time it takes you to step back and then step right back forward again. Gradually this fraction of a second that you are away from him will become a full second and gradually you will add not only time to your stay but also distance. Don’t increase both at the same time. Increase one or the other (time or distance) and only VERY gradually. Teaching a reliable stay at a distance can take months. Go slow so that your dog will succeed. Add too much time or too much distance and you are setting him up for failure.

Once your dog is proficient at sitting while you are 10 feet or more and for 20 or 30 seconds, you can begin teaching him to stay while you walk around him and return to heal position. Initially your dog will think that he is being released just because you have come back to him. Try holding a piece of food over his head while you walk around him going from your right side (the dog’s left) and then around his back to where you are standing in heal position on the dog’s right side. The food will distract him from getting up and encourage him to continue sitting.

Teach your dog that he needs to stay until you give the release command. I use either the word okay or my marker word yes. For me, yes has 2 meanings. One is that he is released to do what he wants. The other is that a treat is coming. For my dogs, the word okay just means he is free to do what he wants. For many trainers, the word stay eventually fades away and the dog knows that he needs to always stay in whatever position he is told to get in until he hears a release word. There is no need to use it as a sit commands means to sit and stay until released. A down command means to down and stay.

Once your dog is fairly reliable with sit stays (20 seconds at 10 feet), you can begin teaching your dog to stay in a down position. Teach it exactly the same way exact that your dog is in a down. Though more difficult for a dog to master, you can also teach your dog to stay in a stand position.

TO TEACH A “STAND” simply get him standing up and still anyway you can and then say the word. You might have to physically pick his rear up off the ground. As he gets better, he’ll need less physical reminder. A foot under his belly is enough (I of course don’t mean a kick but to hold him up a little with your foot).